I was sitting in the local automotive shop the other day and as I waited for my car, I took notice of my surroundings, which included the only other person sitting near me, who was engaged some serious reading. He looked to be in his sixties, tall and tanned, with medium length gray hair covered by biker-style bandanna with an American flag design. He wore shorts and a tee shirt, earrings, a few colored bracelets and and a silver necklace with a skull on it, and he had a few tattoos.
I was bored to pieces watching the Chicago White Sox game on WGN and welcomed the change of pace when the stranger turned to me with a friendly smile and asked about my car. And that's how I started talking to a guy I would later find was named Barry, a die-hard Conservative in his sixties, who is of Italian descent, served in Vietnam, has a wife nine years younger who loves muscle cars, owns a house on a nearby island, and once drove a truck for the M&M/Mars company.
I sat there talking to him about all kinds of things from the interesting to the mundane, all the while mindful that at any moment, the mechanic would step into the room and tell one of us our car was ready, which would be followed by that awkward parting that comes when two complete strangers who have been conversing like old friends for hours, are suddenly reminded they really are complete strangers. Fortunately, we had a good thirty minutes of conversation before that happened.
We talked politics, education, social justice, the Civil War, and classic cars. I'll admit I was fascinated by the many directions our conversations had taken. I was hit with an "it's a small world" moment when we were discussing heritage, I mentioned that my mother is from Brooklyn and my father from Kennesaw, Georgia. That's when he told me he knew Kennesaw very well, which surprised me, because even though it's no longer a just a small town outside Atlanta, I still don't meet many people who know anything about it other than the fact it passed a law years back requiring all citizens to carry firearms! Of course he knew quite a bit about the town, including its heritage, the Kennesaw Civil War Museum, the old Big Shanty Museum and Kennesaw's own legend "Wildman" Dent Myers. (You can look that last one up on your own!)
After the manager let him know his car was ready, we talked for a few minutes more and then he put out his hand to shake and I reciprocated the gesture. We exchanged the usual "it was nice meeting you" and then that's when we learned each other's names for the first time. I told Barry that maybe we'd run in to one another again in the future. He said that would be nice.
Though we didn't have the opportunity to talk for very long, I felt like it was a very worthwhile experience. In fact, after he left the shop, I jotted down my thoughts our discussion. I think the main reason I did this is because I was still in awe that he struck up a conversation with me. In this day and age, so many people are hesitant to just say hello to a stranger and chat them up a bit. It's really too bad because there's so much to be learned from meeting new people!
My motto is "everybody has a story" and it's a fact that no two stories are the same so every time I talk to someone new, it's a fascinating experience for me. I'm very fortunate to know a lot of people, from many walks of life, from all over the US and the world. I have learned a great deal from them and hopefully they have from me too. Meeting people, talking to them, and sharing experiences enhances our lives, it makes us richer and more fulfilled.
So the next time you find yourself sitting in public, checking your email, facebook and twitter, make the decision to put the phone down and try engaging the stranger next to you in conversation. You just never know what you might learn and how it might add to the quality of your life!